By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
Crystal Wicks has been a champion fighter for small rural churches over the past three decades. But that fight takes a backseat to the personal battle she has endured over the last few months.
Not only has this pastor from Joplin recovered from a near-fatal heart attack, she’s also returned to preaching at the same two country churches she did before the attack.
For many people, that might be remarkable to bounce back from. But for the 81-year-old Wicks, it borders on miraculous. Even more astounding is her short amount of recovery time before resuming pastoral duties.
Wicks suffered the attack on April 29 while leading services at Avilla United Methodist Church, one of two rural churches where she preaches each Sunday. Bordering on a life-or-death situation, she underwent open-heart surgery four days later. Then, with her doctor’s permission, she went back to preaching on July 15.
Preaching in an ‘easy way’
However, there have been some modifications.
“The doctor said I could preach as long as it was in an easy way,” she said. “So the people in my churches have provided me with a microphone and a chair to sit in while I preach. They have taken good care of me.”
In addition, Wicks’ daughter, Linda Butler, has been doing the driving on Sunday mornings. She has had the responsibility of getting her mom to 9 a.m. services at Avilla and 10:30 a.m. services at Bethel United Methodist, 20 miles down the road, near Carthage.
The morning of April 29 has remained a painful memory for Wicks. She said that during her sermon she felt herself fainting near the railing at the front of the church. Members of the congregation caught her and broke her fall. She gives additional credit to lay speaker Kelly Peterson, who rushed her to the hospital.
A native of Powell in McDonald County, Wicks got a late start in ministries, all of which have been with Methodist churches. She began preaching in 1979 at Alba and Oronogo, and has served two churches at a time ever since. In the past, preachers like Wicks, who went from church to church, were commonly known as circuit riders.
Wicks has also served at churches in Carl Junction, Pierce City and Wheaton. She obtained a bachelor’s degree at Missouri Southern State University in 1983. She went on to get her seminary degree from the St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City two years later when she was ordained by Bishop W.T. Handy.
Retirement can wait
Although the mandatory retirement age for Methodist pastors is 70, the rule applies specifically to large churches, Wicks said. So, although she officially turned in her resignation in 2000, she has continued to minister at small, rural churches, which she says have always been her first love.
There’s just something about those country churches, she said.
“A lot of small churches have closed, but we are still open and going strong,” Wicks said about the Avilla and Bethel congregations. “This rural setting is one of those things that stay with you, and that is why people keep coming back here, to their roots.”
The veteran pastor called her husband, James E. Wicks Sr., a great inspiration to her ministry. He served 12 years as the Methodist district lay leader in Joplin. He died in 2006.
Wicks has not only been active as a pastor, but also in many other areas. She has held several positions on ministerial alliances, developed programs with prison ministries, including serving as a chaplain, and even ran a co-ed softball league for four years.
“I’m just happy and get a lot of comfort and peace when I can help people and preach God’s word,” she said.
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.